Some recent reading – London books

One thing that I always meant to do, but have never actually got around to doing, is to put up lists of favourite or recommended London books – a) to perhaps give you some thoughts on what you might read next, and b) to show off about how fantastically erudite and well-read I am.

With that in mind (option (a) obviously slightly more important than (b)) here’s some of the stuff that I’ve enjoyed over the past six months or so. I shall try to do this more often, as I’m finding ownership of a Kindle (plus the dearth of guiding work) is allowing me to read a lot more than I have in the past.

There are links off to the evil corporation that is Amazon for most of them (for which I may earn several buttons if you actually buy anything), but all of the ones below should be available at – or orderable from – your local bookshop.

Churchill: A Study in Greatness

Geoffrey Best

If you’re after a one-volume biography and can’t quite face the 1,000 page odyssey of Roberts, this is pretty good.

Details on Amazon here.

Viking Britain: A History

Thomas Williams

A great read on the waves of traders, invaders and settlers that came across the North Sea and their impact on Britain, both at the time and subsequently.

Details on Amazon here.

A Short History of London: The Creation of a World Capital

Simon Jenkins

A rapid overview of the city’s history from earliest times to the present. A good read, even if Jenkins does take a bit too much time on saying how dreadful modern architecture is.

Details on Amazon here.

The Ravenmaster

Christopher Skaife

The Tower of London does have someone whose title is ‘Ravenmaster’ and Yeoman Warder Skaife is he.

Some cracking stories about life in the Tower, interspersed with the history of England, Chris’s own autobiography and information on the UK’s largest corvids.

Details on Amazon here.

The Splendid and the Vile

Erik Larson

The Blitz as seen through the eyes of the Churchill family and others. A mix of history and actual diary entries that gives a pretty vivid picture of life during those nine months when London was bombed on an almost daily basis. Larson has a novelist’s sensibility for a story (which has both plusses and minuses), but makes for a cracking read.

Details on Amazon here.

D Day: Minute by Minute

Jonathan Mayo

Does what it says on the cover – tracing the Normandy invasion as it happened from both sides from historical archives, diaries, autobiographies and more. It gives a great insight into the confusion, terror and slaughter of battle, and the pressures on those in command. Another recommended read.

Details on Amazon here.

Civil War: The History of England Volume III

Peter Ackroyd

The ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’, the decade-long armed conflicts that left a King executed and Britain as a ‘Commonwealth’. There are so many more aspects to this story than most of us remember or were taught, and this is a good primer on it all. For more on Cromwell’s rule, Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate by Paul Lay is the go-to title.

Details on Amazon here.

London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945

Barry Miles

Good and readable on the fifties and early sixties, but gets a bit bogged down in minutiae of the later ‘hippy’ period. Barry Miles was involved in ‘the scene’ at the time and has a number of scores to settle. Also, some of the ‘happenings’ that he is so proud of sounded so incredibly tedious to me.

Details on Amazon here.